“Miss Fortune,” a song from John Wesley Harding’s 1998 album Awake, inspired him to flesh out its character’s story in the novel Misfortune, which he published earlier this year (under his real name, Wesley Stace). That led to this collaboration with three friends—Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor and baritone Brian Lohmann—for an album based on the book, under the monicker Love Hall Tryst.
The result isn’t Harding’s first foray into old British folk but it’s his best. The traditional lyrics and melodies that dominate the disc, many adapted by Harding, are top-notch, as is a fitting cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Joan of Arc.” Fair warning, though: The tracks are practically a cappella. A hurdy-gurdy pops up occasionally, and the disc ends with alternate electric versions of two tracks that confirm the wisdom behind the instrument-free approach.
These are mostly the sort of tragic tales you’d expect from this genre; as Harding has noted, the 11 tunes chronicle 13 deaths. Still, the collection feels uplifting. One reason is the preponderance of lilting melodies; another is the fine and spirited singing by Harding and his accompanists and the spectacular ways their voices blend.